HL Deb 02 November 1954 vol 189 cc966-9

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like, if I may, to intervene briefly to make, a statement on the report of the British Guiana Constitutional Commission, similar to that being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

The report of the British Guiana Constitutional Commission has been published to-day as a Command Paper. My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs, has discussed it with the Governor during his recent visit to British Guiana and Her Majesty's Government accept the conclusions of the report. Noble Lords will wish to study it and I will not, therefore, go into details now.

Briefly, the conclusions of the Commission amply justify the action taken by Her Majesty's Government last October. They state that the breakdown was not due to defects in the Constitution, but to the activities of those in control of the People's Progressive Party. They recommend that there is at present no alternative to a period of marking time in constitutional matters. They do not recommend a specific period, nor do Her Majesty's Government wish to be tied to one. Her Majesty's Government, however, consider it desirable to set some maximum term to the personal appointment of the present members of the Legislative Council without prejudice to when it may be possible to hold elections again. The present appointments will therefore run for four years from January 1, 1954. During the period of this interim Government, it is our firm intention to do everything possible to fit the Colony for a return to representative government. In particular, there will be a thorough reform and extension of local government institutions.

I should like, in conclusion, to express the warm thanks of Her Majesty's Government to Sir James Robertson, formerly Civil Secretary of the Sudan, who was Chairman of the Commission and to the other two members, Sir Donald Jackson, Chief Justice of the Windward and Leeward Islands, and Mr. Woodcock, Assistant General Secretary of the T.U.C.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for the statement which he has just made, may I ask two questions? First, I notice from the statement of the Minister that the recommendation of the Commission, that there is at present no alternative to a period of marking time in constitutional matters, is accepted. Do Her Majesty's Government also accept the recommendations of the Commission on subsidiary constitutional matters mentioned in their report and also the recommendations concerning the electoral system? Is Her Majesty's Government's acceptance of the Commission's recommendations an entire acceptance, and not just an acceptance of that part which at first sight appears to be most important? I ask this question because it might be found in years to come that a real clean-up of the electoral system would go a long way to founding a proper Parliamentary Government in British Guiana. Secondly, the statement we have just heard lays some stress upon the extension of local government institutions. While I am sure that all noble Lords will welcome the extension of the local government institutions in Guiana, I would ask the Minister whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to substitute the extension of local government institutions for the bringing into force, in the reasonable future, of Parliamentary institutions? In our view, the extension of local government institutions is a proper reform, and is not, in fact, a substitution for Parliamentary government.


My Lords, may I answer the last question of the noble Lord first? No; certainly there is no question in our minds of substituting local government for constitutional advance in the future, whenever that may be. It was felt, however, that possibly the best method of paving the way towards further constitutional advance was a reform of local government, with the idea that people might thereby gain experience and training in local government which would enable us to go forward, whenever it became possible, with further constitutional advance. As regards the electoral system, Her Majesty's Government do accept the report. Our first endeavours will be towards reform of the local government electoral system and local government generally, rather than to the main electoral reform. That is a matter which will have to be considered along with many other matters in British Guiana during the next few years. It is certainly something that Her Majesty's Government will bear fully in mind.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. One has not yet had sufficient time to consider his statement fully. I would only ask, is it not a fact that the situation in British Guiana represents a failure of British Colonial policy? Whatever the reasons may be, we have failed to put over our policy in British Guiana, and I have a feeling that this may also be the situation in other Colonies. Would the Minister look at the Information Services of Her Majesty's Government in British Guiana? Are the public getting from the Government in British Guiana a reasonable statement of what are our aims in that territory?


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot accept the noble Lord's last contention. I cannot agree that the failure of the Constitution was in any way at all due to failure in our Colonial policy. The failure of the present leaders of the People's Progressive Party derives from their failure to measure up to the responsibilities held out to them. As regards information services, the noble Lord will appreciate I that I have not been long in my present position and have not had an opportunity to visit British Guiana myself. My impression is that everything is being done to put over a proper point of view to the people of British Guiana as a whole.


My Lords, some of us would like to study this Report more fully and we will leave our comment until we have had time to do so.